Alaska travel plan: 5 Days In Juneau

Juneau is one of the most stunning and most fascinating of state capitals, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, glistening glaciers and crystal clear seas. Located in southeast Alaska, Juneau is accessible only by air or sea, making it somewhat secluded and intimate despite being a city that’s almost 4 times as big as Rhode Island! Reduced accessibility means that many visitors arrive by one of the 5+ Alaska cruise ships that dock in Juneau every day.

There’s so much to see and do in and around Juneau that it’s impossible to see everything the city has to offer in just 5 days, but here’s some of the highlights that are not to be missed on any trip to Alaska’s capital.

Day 1 – Welcome To Juneau!

As you can’t drive into Juneau from further afield, the trip is an opportunity to put your feet up and relax, although that doesn’t mean you won’t be tired by the time you arrive! You’ll probably have arrived into Juneau International Airport via Seattle, disembarked from an Alaska cruise liner that set sail from Seattle or Vancouver, or stepped off a smaller Alaska cruise ship run by the Alaska Marine Highway System from other parts of the state.

An ideal activity for a lazy afternoon is to hang out at Marine Park, next to the port. It’s a relaxing place, filled with families enjoying picnics in the sun (yes, Alaska has sun!), kids playing sports and nature lovers taking advantage of the free binoculars trying to catch a glimpse of the state’s famous wildlife. It’s also a great place to watch the multi million dollar, state of the art Alaska cruise liners sail in and out on their way through the Inside Passage.

Day 2 – Explore The City

Now that you’ve recovered from your journey, it’s time to really explore Juneau. Take a walk around the city, getting your bearings. The downtown area is ideal walking territory, though heading towards West Juneau and the Douglas area can get rather hilly. It may be wise to jump in a taxi to see this area.

Day 2 is perhaps a good day to visit the Alaska State Museum, conveniently located just a 10 minute walk from the Alaska cruise ship docks. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Juneau and Alaska can be found here, whether that be history of the native cultures, the fascinating story of the sale to the United States, or the abundant wildlife. A visit to the museum is sure to enhance your Alaskan experience.

Day 3 – Take A Trip To Haines

Nature lovers absolutely cannot miss a trip to nearby Haines, specifically to the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. The 200 square kilometer reserve is home to around 400 bald eagles, which rockets to a whopping 4000 between October and February, giving it the largest population of the bird in the world.

Getting to Haines is simple; it’s just a 2 hour trip along the water, but unlike many visitors who travel the seas on a 2000+ occupancy Alaska cruise ship, the best way to get from Juneau to Haines is by a small, but incredibly fast, catamaran operated by Alaska Fjordlines. Even better is that the trip includes a stop at the 1.5 mile wide Mendenhall Glacier, located 12 miles from downtown Juneau.

Day 4 – Go Hiking

There are seemingly endless opportunities for hiking in and around Juneau, such as the Perseverance trail and the Mount Jumbo trail but no hiking route gives more pleasure than making the 4.5 mile trek up Mount Roberts to the 3,819 foot summit. And why? For two reasons; firstly, the views over one of the busiest Alaska cruise docks and the stunning city beneath, and secondly because you avoid the $27 fee for riding the tram!

For something a bit easier on the legs, try the Airport Dike trail. There’s absolutely no elevation so it’s even suitable for pushchairs and wheelchair users, but still gives the impression of going for a brisk hike. The route is 1.2 miles long and is popular with dog walkers and nature lovers who come for views of the waterfowl.

Day 5 – Shop ‘Til You Drop

Alaska may not strike you as one of the USA’s top shopping destinations, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! If it’s souvenirs you’re after, you can’t do much better than the waterfront area. Inspired by the thriving Alaska cruise industry right on their doorstep, stores in this area cater to what their customers want; trinkets! Some of the stuff may well be laughable, but you can easily pick up some cheap and cheerful reminders of your trip here. Check out the Alaska Shirt Company right at the docks for humorous clothing, and Glacier Smoothie for gimmicky soaps and beauty products.

If that’s not really your style, and If you’ve got time before your flight or ferry home, stake out some of the more cultural stores in the city. There are a number of malls with stores you can see all over the country, but there’s also some unique and specialised stores selling Alaskan literature and photography which are perfect gifts for friends and family back home. The Raven’s Journey and the gift shop at the Alaska State Museum are particularly good for finding native art, books and jewelry.

This was a guest post but I want to add my own little thing. When I was on a cruise ship that stopped in juneau, we did a little rafting and got a view of the Mendenhall Glacier or at least a glacier on the Mendenhall River – I don’t remember exact names. My wife was pretty mad at me at the time since she was cold and wet and I chose the excursion but years later it’s a fond memory (the rafting, not me getting in trouble). One thing on my Alaskan vacation wishlist is hiking the Mendenhall Glacier (so I guess that was the right name).

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